KCK voters flatly reject district’s $420 million plan to improve, build new schools

Voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a request to issue $420 million in bonds for capital projects in Kansas City public schools, sending district officials back to the drawing board on a plan to raise the challenges of dilapidated school buildings.

About 8% of registered voters participated in the single-issue special election over the fate of the district proposition, according to unofficial results from the Wyandotte County Election Office.

The measure received the support of 42% of voters while 58% voted against. There were 5,071 ballots cast, with 2,136 in favor and 2,935 opposed.

The plan submitted to voters called for the construction of three elementary schools and two middle schools. Some additional costs included a $15 million district aquatic center, a $20 million expansion of early childhood capacity, up to $20 million for a new main public library and $44.5 million to cover deferred maintenance.

District officials stressed that this plan addresses many needs, including aging school buildings and a lack of space.

Reached by phone Tuesday evening, Superintendent Anna Stubblefield thanked those who participated in the special election for voting on both sides.

“Unfortunately, it didn’t go the way we hoped,” she said. “However, as long as I serve as superintendent, I will always advocate for what is best for children so that they achieve the academic results that I know they are capable of achieving.”

During her conversations with KCK residents, Stubblefield said she believes a majority of people still want better facilities for students and teachers — even those who didn’t support the proposal Tuesday.

“I’m excited to come to the table with those who potentially have other ideas on how we can achieve this, to hear their thoughts and perspectives on priorities and how to improve our facilities for our students,” Stubblefield said.

District officials decided to put the question to voters earlier this year, saying the last major infrastructure update left a school system unbalanced with equity gaps between students who attend the new buildings and those who don’t. frequent the elders.

In 2016, voters overwhelmingly approved a $235 million bond issue to fund the rebuilding of several schools. He did not raise taxes, a major concern district officials addressed, and promises were made to come back and upgrade more schools later.

Delays since then have been attributed to turnover among the district’s top leadership as well as challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Examples of inequities district officials want to correct include the situation at Central Middle School, a 109-year-old building where the student population is overflowing to the point that many students are taking classes in outdoor trailers. Two or three students are assigned to a single locker due to lack of space.

The bond faced opposition from residents, largely because it would have raised property taxes. For a resident who owns a home valued at $150,000, the annual property tax bill is expected to increase by $146.63.

Pamela Penn-Hicks, a KCK organizer who helped lead the anti-bail campaign, celebrated the outcome Tuesday night.

She questioned the proposal based on the costs that would have been borne by financially struggling Kansas City, Kansans, as well as whether the new facilities were the right answer to other problems, such as the challenges district academics.

“Now is the time for us to sit down as a community and put together the necessary ingredients to improve our academic success and enhance the academic experience for students,” Penn-Hicks said.

Turnout was remarkably low at all Wyandotte County voting sites. A higher-traffic area was Oak Ridge Missionary Baptist Church, 9301 Parallel Parkway, where about 400 people voted.

Voters who spoke to the Star expressed mixed opinions on the issue.

Rosellar Thomas, 72, attended KCKPS and has three children who work for the district. She said she voted yes because she wanted to see investments in the future of the students enrolled there today.

“Our kids deserve better than what they have,” Thomas said, adding, “We build everything else.” Why not build for the future?

As the election approached, a yes campaign called the Committee for a Stronger Future tried to build support using letters and social media ads. As the final results came in Tuesday evening, the mood among supporters of a KCK watch party shifted from cautious optimism to disappointment.

KCKPS Board Chairman Randy Lopez, a supporter of the bond issue, said the outcome shows the need for the community to come together and discuss the hopes, dreams, opportunities and challenges for the ‘future.

“Our district’s challenges still exist with our facilities,” Lopez said. “We still have children in trailers and we still have problems in many of our buildings.

We must work together to develop a plan that this community will embrace and implement so that we can continue to invest in our students and in this community.